Dinner Recipe: Pesto Noodles

This dinner recipe is a sleeper. It’s much simpler than Peanut Noodles, and it lacks the obvious cheese and Frito goodness of the Beans & Rice, yet it’s rated as highly as both by our clients.

Meal stats

  • Recommended meal weight: 5.6 oz
  • Total calories: 700
  • Caloric density: 125 calories/ounce

To increase the caloric density, which is already very high, add more olive oil, more noodles, or more Parmesan.

Pesto Noodles, an inexpensive and simple, yet hearty, backpacking dinner recipe. Rather than strive for perfect at-home consistency as photographyed, I add extra water in order to ease the cooking process and to get a delicious broth.
Pesto Noodles, an inexpensive and simple, yet hearty, backpacking dinner recipe. Rather than strive for perfect at-home consistency as photographyed, I add extra water in order to ease the cooking process and to get a delicious broth.


The spices can be altered to change the profile of the dish. For example, add some dried oregano or rosemary.

For extra goodness, drop in some chunks of salami or beef jerky. Pine nuts are cashews are also a good addition.

This dish can be made vegan by substituting the Parmesan. Vegan Parmesan products are available online and at local natural grocers. Or, easily make your own using cashews, nutritional yeast, and a pinch of salt.

Noodles in the center and olive oil in the cup. From there, clockwise: Parmesean, spices (3x), and sun-dried tomatoes.
Noodles in the center and olive oil in the cup. From there, clockwise: Parmesan, spices (3x), and sun-dried tomatoes.

At-home preparation

Discard the MSG-loaded seasoning packet in the bag of noodles, either at home or in the field.

For single-servings, all ingredients should be bagged together, except for the Parmesan — keep that separate. I store the olive oil in a Nalgene bottle made of HDPE, which are available in 4-, 8-, 16-, and 32-ounce sizes. The screw-lids are very secure, and I haven’t had one leak oil.

In a group setting, each group member receives their own ration of noodles, and all of the other ingredients (Parmesan, olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, and spices) are packaged separately. Divide them in the field.

Lower right two bags: individual portion; olive oil not in photo. All other bags: group packaging.
Lower right two bags: individual portion; olive oil not in photo. All other bags: group packaging.

Cooking instructions

For perfect at-home consistency:

  1. Use 10 ounces of water. Add the leathery sun-dried tomatoes at the start, to give them time to soften up.
  2. Bring the water to a boil, or a near-boil.
  3. Add all ingredients, save for the Parmesan. The ramen seasoning packet should be discarded.
  4. Stir and let reconstitute. No simmer is needed.
  5. Once the ingredients have cooked and the pot has been removed from the stove, add the Parmesan. Unless you want a gooey cheese mess in your pot, do not jump the gun on the Parmesan.
  6. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.

Have questions or an experience with this meal? Leave a comment.

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  1. Jason Weddle on September 7, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Awesome posts and recipe, thank you!

    In the picture of the packaged ingredients you have raisins but you don’t have them in the recipe. Are raisins supposed to be in the recipe?

    In the plated picture you have 3x spices, I can make out 2 of the 3… basil, garlic and what’s the other green spice? The only green spice listed is the basil.

    Thanks for having the best backpacking website out there and I support the content as much as possible!

    • Andrew Skurka on September 7, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      The raisins should not have been in that photo. They were nearby for another recipe, curry couscous, and I mistakenly included them in the photo for the Pesto Noodles.

      The third mystery spice is described on the container as “Spicy Spaghetti” spice. I think it’s a Sam’s Club product. It’s just more Italian spices: more garlic and basil, plus oregano, dried onions, and other stuff. Totally optional; I use it because I have it, and I want to use it up, but it’s not necessary.

  2. Jay Kerr on September 8, 2015 at 9:59 am

    I have a similar recipe which was voted #1 on our recent North Lake – South Lake loop hike in SEKi last month. Instead of ramen I cooked angel hair pasta then popped the pasta into the food dehydrator overnight. For the pesto I used off-the-shelf pesto seasoning mix. I tried to dehydrate some actual pesto, but the fat content separated out, so I went with the seasoning mix.

  3. andrew weldon on October 13, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    I’ve been doing this with a bit less basil and adding in the knorr vegetable mix. Love it.

  4. Matt on January 26, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    How do you convert the weight of ingredients to cooking measurements?

    • Andrew Skurka on January 26, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      I don’t. I use a plostal scale to weigh everything. This approach scales much better to large batches.

  5. Jim White on June 3, 2016 at 10:00 am

    How about making this with Thai rice stick noodles?

    • Andrew Skurka on June 3, 2016 at 10:44 am

      Not as familiar with them, but no reason why it shouldn’t work so long as they cook about as quickly. I like ramen because it is (1) cheap, (2) calorically dense, and (3) widely available.

  6. Ashley on July 29, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Love this recipe. Recently tried it out with the addition of pine nuts, which upped the protein/fat even more. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Matt Swider on August 19, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    This meal was the favorite of several of the 10 people on our recent High Sierra Trail trek. The second night we this we added a couple ounces of jerky, and it was even better. Shared some with our vegetarian friends and they gobbled it up, jerky and all. At least for our tastes this is a solid first string meal.

  8. Alex Harros on July 30, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    Do you use remoistened sundried tomatoes (w/ oil or water) or are they dry?

    • Andrew Skurka on July 30, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      They are dried, no oil. By putting them in the pot early in the process, they will soften up.

  9. david on June 6, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    I’ve taken this and used it in a rehydration bag recipe. I add 1/3 cup of Outdoor Herbivore dehydrated Asian veggies and 1 TBS of Lipton onion-mushroom soup mix. When rehydrating I add a .5 oz ghee packet to it. Yum.

  10. Ove Nordström on July 12, 2019 at 5:57 am

    Hi Andrew,

    Try chopped pine nuts for the Pesto Nodles.

    Best Regards
    Ove from Sweden (Sequoia – Sep 2018)

  11. macy on November 25, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    The comments mention cashews, but the recipe doesn’t include nuts. I assume the 125cal/oz isn’t including them either? in any case, easy enough to add them and i’m looking forward to trying this one on the next trip.

    • Andrew Skurka on November 26, 2019 at 9:18 am

      The recipe and text is now correct. Cashews are not included in this dish, but you’re certainly welcome to add them. Just be careful about how much more than 5.5 ounces you go — this amount seems to be a very good dinner portion.

  12. Estel on January 5, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    When solo camping, how do you deal with olive oil over multiple dishes? Seems like unnecessary weight to have a bottle for each meal, but otherwise how do you avoid using tomorrow’s portion by mistake? Do you just have an excellent idea of what 1oz of oil looks like? I suppose you could always mark portions on the side of the bottle, although at risk of them rubbing off over time…
    Also (because we don’t have that dried parmesan powder stuff in my country), would it work to just take a block of parmesan and grate it, or is that likely to become a sweaty mess during summer?

    • Andrew Skurka on January 5, 2020 at 5:55 pm

      Use one bottle for the trip, not one for each meal.

      You can use a bottle with measurements on it, although you’ll have to convert it some because oil is lighter than water (and the measurements will refer to water).

      Another option is to put some tape on it, at different levels.

  13. Paul Leavitt on April 14, 2020 at 8:08 pm

    Do your 5 top meals work well with freezer bag cooking?

    • Andrew Skurka on April 14, 2020 at 8:10 pm

      I’ve never tried. Cooking them in the pot seems to work really great.

  14. Louise on July 26, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    Another delicious recipe – thank you! I used less sun dried toms and also used freeze dried basil which gave it a more robust ‘pesto’ taste.

  15. Heather Baiman on September 6, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    I did one of Andrew’s Sierra trips in 2017. We didn’t have this meal on my trip, but it’s the only one of his meals I have adopted, using it on the PCT last year and the Colorado trail this year. I am a FBC person, I hate cleaning the pot, and I send all my food to trail from home, so here’s my adaptation of the recipe/kit.

    1 Pack Top Ramen
    1 Pack Knorr Pesto Sauce Mix (I taste tested the creamy version, but preferred the regular)
    2 Tbs Pine Nuts
    2 Tbs Dried Tomatoes (https://www.packitgourmet.com/Tomato-Dices.html)
    2 Packets Marconi Olive Oil .375oz (https://www.packitgourmet.com/MarconiOrganicExtraVirginOliveOil.html)

    The Pine Nuts/Tomatoes were stored in a small food safe pack (https://www.clearbags.com/3-x-4-1-2-silver-backed-metallized-hanging-zipper-barrier-bags-100-pieces-hzbb3s.html). I used these bags for storing spices/nuts/ingredients for other meals as well. Food was fine stored in them for the length of the PCT. A year later, stuff was definitely stale.

    As for the cooking part, I used Harmony House’s 2.5 cup FBC bags. They could have a larger opening for easier eating, but it’s fine. (https://www.harmonyhousefoods.com/Clear-ZIP-Pouches-25-Cup-Size-Heavy-Duty-50-Count_p_2097.html) PackitGourmet sells 3.5 cup bags, but they are pricey at 90 cents each.

    Put everything but oil in bag, boil 10-15oz water, add water, then oil to bag. Mix and seal, wait 3 min, mix again and eat.

    Its about 750-800 calories and easy to get down since it’s not a dense/heavy/thick dish.

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